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Call to End Wolfowitz's Reign Goes Global

IPS | April 17, 2007
Emad Mekay

The calls for embattled World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz to step down have gone global, coming from newspapers, officials, activists and even Internet bloggers from across the world.

Wolfowitz, who took over as the 10th president of the World Bank in June 2005, has admitted to ordering a 60,000-dollar pay increase for his lover and Bank employee, Shaha Riza, before seconding her to the U.S. State Department as a part of an exorbitant compensation package.

The revelations have been reverberating for the past week and received unprecedented media attention.

The controversy was complicated by a self-styled anti-corruption campaign that Wolfowitz kick-started at the World Bank and wanted to make a signature for his tenure. Critics say the campaign makes Wolfowitz's loss of credibility even worse.

The accusations of nepotism not only created troubles for the 63-year-old Bank president, best known internationally for his role as an architect of the ill-fated U.S.-led war in Iraq, but further soured his already tense relationship with the Bank staff.

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Some Bank staff appear to be behind a new website, www.wolfowitzresign.com, launched this week, to rally support for the call on the World Bank president to go.

The site says it showcases World Bank staff as they speak out and tell the world "about the corrupt, unethical, and bullying behaviour of Bank president Paul Wolfowitz and his inner circle" as well as share information about "Wolfowitz's reign of sleaze and corruption at the World Bank."

The site has a letter-writing campaign in which visitors can sign petitions in 12 languages, including English, Spanish, French and Arabic. Some 38,000 people from across the world have already added their names to the demand for his departure.

"If our president is not capable of acting with transparency and accountability, how are we as staff supposed to promote good governance and anti-corruption among our clients?" the letter says.

In the United States, Wolfowitz's home country, influential columnists and newspapers added their voice for those who want to see Wolfowitz leave his job at the helm of one of the most important international financial institutions.

The Los Angeles Times, a major U.S. newspaper, also ran an editorial advising Wolfowitz to resign, with the headline, "Wolfowitz should walk".

"A World Bank president who grants favours to his girlfriend can't convincingly chide other leaders for corruption," it says.

The New Republic, another U.S. publication, concluded a lengthy piece by simply saying: "He should quit".

The New York Times, one of the largest U.S. newspapers in terms of circulation, also joined the chorus on Monday: "What might Mr Wolfowitz himself say if he discovered that a government receiving World Bank loans was making similar sweet arrangements for the personal friends of its president?"

"There is no way Mr Wolfowitz can recover his credibility and continue to be effective at the bank," it adds.

Many international publications echoed these sentiments.

The Brisbane Times in Australia said that Wolfowitz has become "a liability at World Bank" while the Australian said "Wolfowitz should be shown the door".

In Pakistan, the Daily Times warned of negative consequences to the Bank if Wolfowitz is allowed to stay in office. "Mr Wolfowitz will have to roll too or you can say goodbye to the World Bank," the paper said in an editorial.

The Khaleej Times in the United Arab Emirates said Wolfowitz shouldn't wait for the results of an investigation by the Bank's 24-member board who are trying to determine how serious Wolfowitz's violation was and if it merits a request for him to file and resign by his own accord.

"Considering the sensitivity of the high office Paul Wolfowitz has occupied, it would perhaps be more prudent for him to willingly step aside, as opposed to some inquiry's finding compelling him to pack his bags," the paper said.

In the Philippines, the Manila Times said: "Wolfowitz must go".

"At the rate he is going at the World Bank, he is going to fail," continued the paper. "He has lost credibility as an anticorruption crusader. He has lost the respect and support of the World Bank staff. And he has lost the backing of the World Bank's major owners, except the United States."

In Africa there were rebukes for African finance ministers who had praised Wolfowitz as a "visionary" during the two-day spring meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund here in Washington over the weekend.

"Don't try to make Africa his saving grace," said Njoki Njoroge Njehu, executive director of Nairobi-based Daughters of Mumbi Global Resource Centre. "African politicians do African peoples no favours by making excuses for corruption and for the corrupt; Wolfowitz must resign."

International trade unions, development groups and activists have also been calling for his resignation.

The Congress of South Africa Trade Unions said that "Mr. Wolfowitz embodies all the worst features of the international financial institutions -- the World Bank and International Monetary Fund."

Transparency International, while not calling outright for his departure, said it was concerned by the controversy and the Bank's strategy to fight corruption.

"Clearly in this case, serious errors of judgment and a breakdown in the system for handling conflicts of interest have occurred," said the organisation in a statement Tuesday.

Earlier, European development groups also called for his removal.

"The World Bank's reputation will nose-dive further if Wolfowitz is allowed to stay," said Nuria Molina, of European Network on Debt and Development in Brussels.

Activists in Washington say they will protest on Wednesday outside the World Bank's headquarter with "guerrilla theatre, music and a photo op".

(END/2007)

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